I began learning Japanese for a trivial reason, yet it paved the path to my dreams. Now, I aim to elevate this dream to a grander scale worldwide.

ヴィジャヤサンカラン ヴィノドさん


Interview by Isao Tokuhashi


Vinod Vijayasankaran (India)
Cinematographer/Filmmaker/Video Director

We would like to introduce a longtime friend of ours. A filmmaker from India: the land of cinema.

We met him through LinkedIn about 7 years ago. After reading one of our articles, he became interested in our activities. At that point, he was already working on several films and approached us to collaborate.

Although we met him several times, we lost touch with him for a while. Last summer, after several years, we approached him for a project, reigniting our connection and leading to this interview. In the time since we met, he has become a filmmaker who has worked on commercials for internationally renowned companies such as IKEA and ZARA.

His most notable feature is not only the excellence of his video works but also his command of English. He speaks English with a true American accent, yet he claims he has never been to the United States. While we knew that he developed his English and video skills in the same place, it was during this interview that we learned about his reasons for coming to Japan and his dream to pursue opportunities even beyond.

*Interview at Koenji (Suginami-ku)


Vinod Vijayasankaran(@videovinod)がシェアした投稿


Mastering the craft in both corporate realms and freelance ventures

I work for a company, and I also work as a freelancer. At the company, I serve as an editor. Sometimes, I edit social films; sometimes, I shoot and edit commercials; At other times, I either work on internal videos or shoot test videos. Occasionally, I handle tasks such as adding motion graphics, mixing audio, and adding subtitles. I also create shortened versions suitable for social media. However, when freelancing, I selectively choose projects that either teach me something new or align with my interests. I prefer working on expansive sets where I can learn something new. I directed some videos as a freelancer last year, and my colleagues took notice of my work. Eventually, the company entrusted me with directing roles.

Currently, I work as both a director and a cinematographer in my freelance projects, while also managing directing, shooting, and editing responsibilities at my job. I refrain from editing in my freelance work because I already fulfill that role at the company. My position at the company is my primary focus, and when freelancing, I aim to explore new creative avenues and take on projects that challenge me in different ways.

I arrived in Japan in January 2017, which was just seven years ago. However, it feels as though I’ve been here for a decade; the time doesn’t feel any shorter than that.


Becoming captivated by cinema amidst an inundation of English immersion

I was not born in India; rather, I was born in Bahrain in the Middle East because my father worked there. Bahrain is a very international place, and English is widely spoken. Even after moving to India, I continued to visit the Middle East for summer vacations every year. Throughout my childhood years, I watched numerous English cartoons, movies, and TV dramas, and I read English books. Even if I were to return now, I wouldn’t feel like I fit in because English has become my native language, and I don’t speak Hindi very well.

After moving back home, I grew up in Kerala, South India. My mother tongue is Malayalam, a language spoken predominantly in South India, whereas in North India, Hindi is more common. I distinctly remember beginning to seriously study English when I was 14 or 15, as English, along with other languages, was a subject taught in Indian schools. I excelled in English, particularly in reading and writing, due to my avid reading habits. Around the age of 14 or 15, broadband internet became popular in my home, providing faster access to the internet. Instead of watching Bollywood films, I gravitated towards TV shows like “Seinfeld,” through which I learned English.

Sometimes, I come across discussions about how the Western world perceives the Indian accent, often mockingly. While it used to bother me as a child, it doesn’t affect me as much now. Back then, I was determined not to be teased about my English, so I began to emulate the American accent by repeating lines from TV shows. With plenty of practice time on my own, I adopted an American accent. Eventually, I became so accustomed to it that I couldn’t even hear the Indian accent in my own speech. It felt as though I was living in the U.S., especially since I exclusively watched English TV shows. Now, I feel most comfortable in English-speaking environments.


Defying paternal wisdom

I became interested in making films because I grew up watching a lot of movies. I wanted to go to film school, but my father said my family didn’t have enough money for it. He also doubted the practicality of making money with movies. He was concerned that if I attended film school, I would graduate with a degree in film that I couldn’t use for anything besides filmmaking. This was a significant issue for me because I had wanted to pursue filmmaking for a long time, but lacked the funds to attend film school.

Instead, I enrolled in a business school in North India, a completely different environment. I majored in business, which was unrelated to editing or video production, but I still harbored a desire to work in video production.

I remember my first week at university vividly. People didn’t think I was from India because I spoke only English, while most people in Delhi spoke Hindi. Some people wanted to talk to me because they thought I was rich and not Indian (laughs). Perhaps they saw me that way because they thought I had returned to India to reconnect with my heritage. During my time at school, I taught myself how to use After Effects through YouTube tutorials. After Effects isn’t strictly editing; it’s more about motion graphics animation.

I gradually began studying Adobe Premiere as well. Then, I bought a camera and started shooting different things with my friends. However, my early attempts were not very successful as I didn’t know how to use the camera properly.


Encountering the secret language

In my business school, I began studying Japanese as an additional language for four years. Everyone was required to choose an extra language to learn. Most people opted for French, German, Spanish, or Chinese. However, I always wanted to study Japanese because I thought it would be interesting, despite its seeming impracticality in India. I didn’t really watch anime or Japanese movies, nor did I want to watch them in Japanese. However, I found it intriguing to know Japanese as a secret language, almost exclusively useful in Japan.

In reality, there were only two classes per month, each lasting two or four hours. Progress was slow. By the time I completed university, my Japanese proficiency was very basic due to the slow progress. I could barely speak; my proficiency was just below the conversational level. I could recognize a few Chinese characters and some Japanese alphabets, and I remembered some words, but it wasn’t very practical.

I didn’t have any plans to come to Japan. However, two years before finishing university, there was a program sponsored by the Japanese and Indian governments that offered one hundred students from Indian universities, who were studying Japanese, the opportunity to visit Japan for two weeks. Until then, Japan had never been on my list of places to visit, let alone to live in. Nevertheless, I visited Japan for the first time in 2014. It was my first trip outside India and the Middle East, and it was incredibly exciting.

I stayed in Yamagata Prefecture for one week and traveled to Tokyo for another week, attending classes and interacting with other students. I lived with a Japanese host family in a traditional Japanese house. I found Japan vastly different from India, almost the opposite in many ways. I particularly enjoyed the food and the technology, finding the environment incredibly interesting.

Upon returning to India, I decided to move to Japan.


Arriving in Japan with cinematic aspirations

I started applying for jobs in Japan through email. I sent out 100 emails to different companies for jobs in marketing, which aligned with my university studies. I believed this would be the easiest path as I held an MBA, which I thought could also be advantageous. It might have been a long shot, but I felt it necessary to come here first and then figure out how I could pursue filmmaking.

It turned out to be successful. Out of the 100 emails, only two companies responded, and I was offered an interview by just one. Eventually, they selected me, and I began participating in their internship program online from Delhi. This was a software as a service (SaaS) company with a product similar to Google Drive.

During my first year in Tokyo, I struggled financially. I lived in a shared house in Minato-ku with eight roommates, and my rent consumed half of my salary. This left the other half for any discounted bentos at local supermarkets or cooking my meals. Despite these challenges, I worked there for a couple of months after coming to Japan, but unfortunately, they went out of business due to financial issues while I was working there.

I had to find another path, so I decided to start working in video production. I began by making videos for free. I recorded events, edited them, and provided the videos to the event organizers at no cost. I repeated this process two or three times over and created a website to showcase my work. I also created some motion graphics animations and added them to my portfolio. I then reached out to a few production companies in Tokyo, and one of them replied. They needed assistance with a project for IQOS, a line of heated tobacco and electronic cigarette products, that needed motion graphics, and I continued working for them as a freelancer for my first paid projects.

One day, Verena Hopp, a German woman who organizes internships in Japan and whom I met while searching for an internship company back while I was at university in India, invited me to an event. Even though I wasn’t asked to shoot, I decided to do so anyway. I edited the footage and shared it with Verena, using it to further build my portfolio. At that event, I met Charles Stewart, originally from the U.S. but now involved actively in the sake and shochu scene in Japan, a friend of Verena’s, who was interested in creating more videos, particularly about sake for JSS, Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association. He reached out to me shortly after seeing the event video on my website, as he remembered my interest in video production.

Charles connected me with a separate video production company that needed assistance with animation work. This company had an American director, a businessman in charge of sales from the U.S. as well, and a Japanese translator. They had lost their previous editor and shooter, so they hired me. I worked there for a year and a half and gained a lot of experience in shooting and editing. During that time, I met a Japanese woman who worked behind the scenes in movies as a producer.


Venturing boldly into the realm of cinema

She hired me to work on the set. These films were large-scale productions with dedicated crew members for each task. Someone was helping with the camera, a dedicated cinematographer, and a person responsible for setting up the lights.

Initially, I performed basic tasks like changing batteries and packing equipment in a car as a freelancer. Despite my skills in shooting and editing, I had to start from the bottom due to the difference in production scale. Their budgets were comparable to those of Netflix productions. I handled various small jobs until I was promoted and became more involved in filmmaking, eventually progressing to tasks like pulling focus on the camera and then operating the camera. This progression follows a traditional path in the industry, although it takes several years to advance to work on bigger sets.

I now have a job at an international advertising agency that operates fully in both Japanese and English, bilingually. Additionally, I continue to work as a freelance director and cinematographer.


Igniting grander dreams across the globe

I believe I was fortunate in my first job. I think the most effective way to find a job in the industry is to physically be in the place you want to live in and meet people working in different departments and levels. Many foreign crew members live and work in Japan without Japanese, but I was very lucky to have studied Japanese to some extent (laughs), as it makes everyone a bit more comfortable and avoids minor frustrations.

While I enjoy working here, I have plans to move to Europe, particularly Germany, later this year because I’ll live there with my fiancé. I’m currently searching for job openings on LinkedIn in Germany, especially in Berlin. However, nearly every job posting I’ve encountered requires fluency in both English and German. That’s fine; I’m willing to learn German.

I intend to continue pursuing my dream of making films, whether it is in Japan, Germany, or elsewhere. Specifically, I’m interested in creating narrative films or documentaries. I aspire to become more involved in video production in general, particularly in the realm of narrative filmmaking—productions that audiences would watch in theaters or on platforms like Netflix. I believe this is a medium through which I can connect with people on various topics.


What is Tokyo to you?

A boiling pot of opportunities.

I don’t know any other place like Tokyo in terms of the opportunities it offers and the diverse people you’ll encounter. However, this also means many people come to Tokyo and then leave. It’s a transient place, making it difficult to establish a permanent base here; some find it too bustling and opt to depart, while others seek new opportunities elsewhere. Yet, having lived a quarter of my life here, I feel Tokyo holds a special place in my heart, unlike any other city. It’s always felt like home in some way.

I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to kickstart my career in video production, which was precisely what I wanted to do, and Tokyo provided the perfect environment for that. If I were to start over again, I believe Tokyo would still offer ample opportunities to pursue my passions.

The city’s vibrant atmosphere, coupled with its inhabitants’ friendliness, makes it a welcoming place for anyone eager to work and thrive.


Vinod’s Links

Portfolio: vinodvijay.com/
Shochu Documentary: youtube.com/watch?v=FU93t7ivFtQ
IkEA Social video with Smith: instagram.com/reel/C06KGPZPm3j/
IKEA Commercial: instagram.com/reel/C3moio5vFWC/
ZARA Kids Commercial: instagram.com/p/CumLQ-MLEhL/
Japanese Short Film: youtube.com/watch?v=GN7eNQergN0
Japanese Music Video: youtube.com/watch?v=s9Jd4WHR73Y